A Page of Friendly Criticism

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J. William Lloyd

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MY DEAR MARGARET SANGER: I have followed your career with interest, admiring your courage, respecting your sincerity. To a degree you have had my sympathy, tempered by the ieeling that you were not always wise and that you exaggerated the importance of your cult". But this is usual and, perhaps, inevitable with enthusiasts. They look at their one fact through a microscope and are hardly aware of the existence of the great world outside the field of their lens.

I do not agree with you in the supreme importance you seem to attribute to birth control. Nature herself is a pretty good guide as to what is of first importance, and it is significant, is it not, that Nature has made birth instinctive and almost inevitable and has not furnished instinctive knowledge of birth control ? Whatever we may think of the Great War, the need of children after it will be world-wide and tremendous, and this without any reference to "cannonfodder." But the need was great before. Vast areas of the earth's surface, capable of sustaining a teeming population, were practically uninhabited, or scantily inhabited, and the birth-rate in many of the countries boasting the highest civilization, was declining, allowing the inferior types everywhere to outbreed the superior.

As I see the world, every human being is potentially an asset to the race, potentially a joy to himself and a means of genius, wealth and power to all. If it is not so, it is because the conditions are not right, and the setting right of these conditions "is the greatest humane work known today."

The democratization of all the nations on earth; universal woman suffrage; universal adoption of the initiative, referendum, and recall; collective ownership of all the means of life, production and distribution; universal free trade, a league of nations to prevent conquest, establish international law and settle international disputes; universal co-operation to exploit the undeveloped resources of the earth and seas, destroy disease, drain marshes, irrigate deserts, terrace mountains, build sea-walls, create islands, etc.; these and many, many more things of a like sort, are vastly more important than birth control, for all of them would create a demand and an opportunity for more children, for both the spiritual and material expansion of the race. A greater passion for social service, a more eager and sensitive social conscience, a humane and scientifically organized system of universal co-operation—these are the supreme needs.

THE GREAT WEAKNESS of your cult is that, like anarchism, it is negative, it is more a stopping of doing than a doing. In many places the human race is in sore need of liberty, yes; but in many more places it is in still greater need of a socially-conscious, wisely administered discipline. Just so there is a real need of the universal knowledge of birth control, and with many individuals a real need of its application; but the greater need is that the race should take for its slogan "More and better children," instead of "Fewer and better children"—should make motherhood a specially trained and most honored profession, surrounded with all

social support and assistance, and by improved conditions and special training should transform as many as possible of the unfit into the fit.

Birth control has its place in the social armamentaria, but I would much more eagerly subscribe to a cult of eugenics and fecundity than to one of race-lessening, if not race-suicide.

You will probably deny that your cult has any leaning toward race-suicide, but observation anywhere shows an overwhelming tendency among women of beauty, culture, ability and wealth—the very ones who should be the mothers of the superior race—to avoid motherhood wholly or in part. Among such women the knowledge of birth control has been a positive evil, for it has certainly been abused by them for selfish ends. And the women who do need birth control, the diseased, drunken, degenerate, irresponsible ones, are the ones least likely of any to use it.

I WOULD NOT DENY a knowledge, of birth control to any (though I think a knowledge of it in some form is possessed by most intelligent women today, for knowledge of that kind permeates far and wide beneath the surface;) but if with this knowledge your cult was endeavoring to create a passion for superb, fecund motherhood among the higher types of woman, and a sensitive conscience of refusal among the unfit, it would much more appeal to my heart and brain.

Personally, the kind of birth control I consider ideal is that for which, many years ago, I created the word "magnetation," that which the Oneida Communists called "male continence" and Dr. Stockham named "Karezza." The whole array of "contraceptives," usually so called, are open to serious if not fatal objections. All are likely to injure the sensitive organs of the woman and shock her nervous system; all undependable and treacherously unsafe for the purpose designed; and all hideously interfere with the poetry and romance of the relation.

And now, having gotten this off my chest, and preached to you to my heart's content, I am enclosing a dollar, the worth of which you may send me in your magazine. Stop when the purchasing power is exhausted, for I do not promise to subscribe indefinitely.

Hoping that all laws which hinder you may be repealed,


Westfield, N. J.

(Of course, we do not share Mr. Lloyd's point of view. But his letter has the rare virtue of being friendly and constructive criticism. We gladly print it and invite our readers to send in answers for publication in future issues. We believe Mr. Lloyd to be in error when he states that contraceptives are "all undependable and treacherously unsafe." But then he falls into a host of other errors, and we look to our supporters to detect these and plunge into the fray in support of birth control as the most important of modern social movements.—Editors.)

  • J. William Lloyd, “A Page of Friendly Criticism,” The Birth Control Review 2, no. 5 (June 1919): 9.